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Strictly speaking, we are not vegetarian in our Irish home. I am, however, a big believer in plant based+healthy+simple eating, so I serve a lot of meals with beans, lentils and/or vegetables as the main ingredient.

Over the years, this Puy Lentil Salad with Grilled Vegetables has become one of my go-to recipes. It’s easy to make, my family like it a lot, and it’s gorgeous enough to serve at a casual dinner party.

What’s more, if I double up the entire recipe, I can freeze half the lentils for another meal and keep half the veggies in the fridge for salads and sandwiches during the week!

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If you’re not up for grilling outdoors, a cast iron grill pan on the hob {stove} works well too. And, don’t be frightened by the long list of ingredients: they don’t make for much work in the kitchen. Enjoy!

Puy Lentil Salad with Grilled Vegetables

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 x aubergine (eggplant), rinsed and cut into strips

1 x courgette (zucchini), washed and cut into rounds or strips

1 x red pepper, rinsed and cut into strips

a handful of green beans, rinsed

1 x yellow onion, cut into strips

1 x yellow onion, chopped (for cooking with the lentils)

350g/1-1/3 cup Puy lentils, washed but not soaked

1 bay leaf

1 whole clove

1 carrot, diced

few sprigs of thyme

2 garlic cloves, peeled

600ml/2 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon sugar

lettuce leaves (preferably something deep green or purple), rinsed

olive oil for drizzling

250ml/1 cup olive oil (for dressing)

118ml/4oz/½ cup balsamic vinegar (for dressing)

salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese shavings, as desired

Directions for Lentils

1. Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, drain and rinse under cold water.

2. Return lentils to the saucepan and add chopped onion, bay leaf, clove, carrot, thyme, garlic, chicken stock and sugar. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes, adding water if necessary.

3. Drain lentils, if necessary. Discard bay leaf, clove, thyme and garlic. Season with black pepper and keep warm until ready to serve.

Directions for Vegetables

1. Drizzle vegetables in olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Heat up the grill. Cook vegetables over medium heat to your preferred doneness.

3. When done, turn off the heat and keep vegetables warm until ready to serve.

Directions for Dressing

1. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, mix the olive oil with balsamic vinegar, add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust, if necessary, to your own preference.

Salad Assembly

1. Put a few large leaves of lettuce on a platter.

2. Spoon lentils onto the lettuce, leaving a decorative edge on display.

3. Place the grilled vegetables over top of the lentils.

4. Dress with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

5. Top with shaved Parmesan cheese.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* If you want to add meat, grilled, sliced steak is wonderful with this salad.

** I use Ikea’s Förtrolig clear glass food containers for freezing extra lentils and storing extra grilled veggies in the fridge.

*** Are lentils a superfood? Martha Stewart says “Yes”!

**** Here’s an article saying why we should eat more lentils…from US News & World Report

***** And, finally, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about lentils from tasteinsight.com

 

 

 

Yesterday was quite the day. Hurricane Ophelia battered the Irish countryside with wind gusts up to 170 km/h and heavy rain. Hundreds were left without water and power, many roads were blocked by debris, and three people lost their lives. Today a massive clean-up operation is under way.  Thankfully no harm came to those in our Irish home…and I hope the same is true for you and yours.

RTE Radio One and Met Éireann were fantastic company while the storm raged: entertaining and informing us all day long. Repeatedly we heard things like, “stay off the roads”, “secure your wheelie bins/trampolines”, “stay indoors {and watch The Lion King?!}”, “avoid coastal areas”, and “don’t swim in the sea”. Yes, there were some, dare I say “eejits”, out there swimming and kite surfing in the middle of the hurricane!

Overall, the news reporting was good, old-fashioned, practical. I love that about the Irish: as a whole, they rarely get hysterical and they mostly see the funny side of things.

Case in point…a woman called Joe Duffy’s Liveline yesterday to report “it’s windy here, Joe, good for the drying!”. Only an Irish mammy can be cute {smart} enough to turn a hurricane into a laundry drying exercise. My phone buzzed all afternoon with images sent by friends…thanks to Instagram’s #Ophelia.

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Between the fits of giggles and quick messages back and forth, I did manage to eek out a dinner of roast carrot and cumin soup, with a side of bread rolls made from leftover pizza dough {many thanks to thekitchn.com}.

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Cumin and roast carrots go beautifully together. In this soup, the cumin provides warmth and fragrance notes, while the roasted carrot adds a hint of sweetness and smokiness. This was and is the perfect stormy-weather meal.

Roasted Carrot and Cumin Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients

600g/1¼lb carrots, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

110g/3/4 cup onion, chopped

150g/1 cup potato, skin left on and chopped

30g/2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon cumin

1.2 litres/4 cups chicken stock

pinch of sugar

salt & pepper to taste

yogurt, crème fraîche or cream to garnish, optional

toasted almonds to garnish, optional

sprig of parsley to garnish, optional

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F.

2. Place carrots in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and season well with salt and pepper.

3. Spread carrots in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, uncovered, in the oven for 20 minutes or until fully cooked and starting to caramalise. Watch carefully, a little color makes the carrots sweet…too much color and they will taste bitter. Stir occasionally. Remove from the oven and set aside.

4. In a saucepan, melt the butter. When it foams, add the onion, potato, cumin and sugar. Cover with a piece of parchment paper and a tight fitting lid. Leave to sweat gently on low heat for about 10 minutes.

5. Remove the lid. Discard the parchment paper. Add the roasted carrots and stock. Bring to the boil for 5 minutes.

6. Pour everything into a liquidizer (blender) and purée until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.

7. Serve with a garnish of cream, crème fraîche or yogurt, parsley and toasted nuts.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* Fun carrot facts can be found here, here, and here.

** Growing carrots is easy. Learn how to grow them in your home… here.

***Gorgeous carrot photos (carrot porn!) can be seen over at Pinterest.

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Looking for a delicious recipe for a busy mid-week supper? This Oven-Roasted Salmon may be your answer. It’s so easy to prepare, a child can do it. In fact, both my daughters learned to make this dish over the summer.

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A quick wash of the salmon, a squeeze of lemon, a pad of butter, a dash of salt and pepper, pop it into the oven for 15 minutes and you’re done. If you have the time or energy to jazz it up, play with the herb and fat combinations: sometimes I replace the butter with olive oil {or use both!} or I sprinkle some parsley, dill, tarragon, or lemon zest on top.

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If you need another reason to make this recipe, consider this: salmon is a superfood. In our busy Irish home, I’ll take every opportunity to get good nutrition into my family. Salmon contains significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids {which support heart and eye healthy}, and it is an excellent source of vitamin B-12, vitamin D and Selenium.

Oven-Roasted Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 x 3oz salmon fillets

1/2 lemon

4 pads of butter

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Place oven rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking tray with aluminium and top with a sheet of parchment paper.

2. Rinse the salmon, pat dry with kitchen roll (paper towel), and, if needed, remove any bones.

3. Put the salmon fillets on the parchment paper, skin-side down, and squeeze lemon juice over them.

4. Top each with a small pad of butter.

5. Salt and pepper, as desired.

6. Roast in the oven for approximately 15 minutes or until the salmon is cooked all the way through. Roasting times will vary depending on your oven and the thickness of the salmon.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* Most nights, we serve boiled potatoes and a simple green salad with our salmon dinners.

** Wild or Farmed Salmon? See what the Time.com experts say here.

*** If you’re interested, here’s an article on how Norway avoids antibiotics in fish farming from the World Health Organization.

**** Invasive pink salmon are found on Irish shores recently. Learn more in this Irish Times article.

***** Two more salmon recipes from In an Irish Home: Salmon Fillets with Pesto & Pecorino and Salmon Pesto Pasta.

 

 

This morning we woke to the awful news that yet another mass shooting has taken place in America. The Irish Times reported:

“At least 50 people were killed and more than 400 more injured when a 64-year-old gunman with an arsenal of at least 10 rifles fired upon a Las Vegas country music festival on Sunday, raining down shots from a 32nd-floor window for several minutes before killing himself.”

Immediately, I turned on the television and reached for my computer to learn more and I was {and still am} angry and saddened by the photos of terrified young people…running…leaping over metal railings…hiding behind cars…and…worst of all, lying on the ground covered with blood…not moving.

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Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

This is the deadliest mass shooting in America and the death toll is not yet final. With 400+ people injured we can only pray that God will spare their precious lives. This atrocity follows, by barely a year, what was previously the largest mass shooting in American history…the attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. And it’s not yet five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed twenty-six people in Newtown, Connecticut.

Today I am left wondering…

* What is happening in America?

* Where is the soul of the legislature?

* How many people have to die before laws are changed?

I have never before blogged about anything like this at In an Irish Home, but I today I feel that I should have. As the mother of two teens, the auntie to many more living in America, an American, and the spouse of an Irish person with multiple siblings living in America, I am terrified to sit quietly and do nothing. I didn’t write when Americans were mass killed in a movie theatre, at school, their local mall, or out for a night of dancing. Why? Because I didn’t see the point. What would my one little voice do to change the landscape?

But, you know what? That’s just it. One little voice…be it within America or outside it…becomes a collective…a wave of outrage that cannot be ignored once it has spoken.

It’s easy to put blame on American lobbyists and groups like the NRA for making America a gun-toting, mass shooting nation. It is far more difficult to place the blame on ourselves.

U.S. groups like Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, Americans for Responsible Solutions, the Violence Policy Center, and the Brady Campaign can’t change the gun laws in America alone.

It is quite possible that America can’t change gun laws on its own…and that is another reason why I’m writing today. This is my protest. I am but a single drop…but when joined with millions of others…I am an ocean. And for the record, the U.S. State Department estimates as many as 3.8 million Americans live abroad…like my own…those voices count too. Let us speak!

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Of course, I can only relate the gun laws of Ireland to the gun laws of America to see the difference. And before you write to tell me I don’t know what I’m writing about, let me just say three things: 1) I’m a Texas girl who learned to shoot handguns and rifles while in college and I enjoyed it; 2) I’m not suggesting Americans should not have guns…just that there should be common sense reforms like background checks, banning sales to those on the federal terror watch, etc.; and 3) I know Ireland isn’t perfect…it has problems…mass gun shootings, thankfully, isn’t one of them. Now, let’s take a look at Ireland’s gun laws as outlined at Gunpolicy.org:

“Ireland has some of the least permissive firearm legislation in Europe. In order to possess a limited range of hunting and sport-shooting firearms,1 gun owners must renew their firearm certificates every three years.2 3 Although small arms-related death, injury and crime remain relatively low, rising rates of gun violence and firearm ownership in the Republic ― in particular the possession and misuse of handguns ― have become sources of national concern.4 In 2009, the private possession of handguns was curtailed. Licensing of all pistols and revolvers using centrefire ammunition was capped through ‘grandfathering,’ with new licences restricted to a limited range of small-calibre .22 rimfire handguns and .177 air pistols.3 5 The possession and use of realistic imitation firearms in a public place is prohibited.6 7 Ireland is an active supporter of the United Nations process to reduce gun injury (UNPoA).8”

The laws surrounding Gun Owner Licensing are thus:

“It is illegal for any civilian to use, carry or possess a firearm or ammunition without a valid firearm certificate which correctly specifies the owner, the weapon, the ammunition and it’s maximum permitted quantity. 48 Certificates are issued by a police Superintendent of the Garda for a maximum of three years. Certificates for restricted firearms are issued by a Chief Superintendent of the Garda and carry the same duration49 50…. Applicants must prove ‘good reason’ for ownership of the firearm applied for, and the Garda must be satisfied that the applicant can be permitted to possess, use and carry the firearms ‘without danger to the public safety of security or the peace.’ If the ‘good reason’ for the firearm possession is target shooting, the owner must belong to a police approved rifle or pistol club. Where application is for a restricted firearm, the applicant must have ‘good and sufficient reason for requiring such a firearm’ and must additionally demonstrate that ‘the firearm is the only type of weapon appropriate for the purpose.’ 53 An applicant must provide proof of identification and age, proof of competence with the firearm concerned, and proof of secure storage for weapons and ammunition while not in use. Potential gun owners must, when making an application for a firearm certificate, give written permission for the police to consult a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist to confirm the applicant’s good physical and mental health, and must nominate two additional referees to attest to the applicant’s character…Firearm certificates should not be issued to an applicant who: is known to be of ‘intemperate habits’ or of ‘unsound mind’; has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment for certain firearm-related or terrorist offences; is bound to keep the peace or to be of good behaviour. 56 57 …There is no official ‘cooling down’ period between the time of application and any granting of a firearm certificate59….The Criminal Justice Act 2009 states that all certificate applications must be decided upon within 3 months. If 3 months are exceeded, the application must be considered declined. 49”

If you have stayed with me to this point, let’s take a look at the Irish gun death, injury and crime statistics:

Gun Homicide: Of the 84 homicides reported by police in 2007, 18 (21 per cent) involved firearms – eight fewer than the 26 gun homicides in 2006. 29 Although the rate of firearm homicide in Ireland remains comparatively low (0.61 per 100,000 population in 2006, and 0.41 in 2007), 30 31 gun killings have increased markedly since 1991, when the rate was 0.3. from 1995 to 1999 the firearm homicide rate averaged 0.28. 33 34

Gun Suicide: Of the 8,547 suicides recorded in Ireland from 1980-2003, 725 (8.5 per cent) were completed with a firearm. 35  In the years 2001-05, the proportion averaged seven per cent. 36 If the average number of firearm suicides reported in 2001-07 (33 per annum) remained steady during 2008, the annual rate of gun suicide in Ireland that year would be 0.74 per 100,000 population, 36 31 down from 0.94 in 1991. 37 Gun suicide is six times more common in rural areas than in cities, and 94 per cent of victims are male. 38 Although total suicides (all methods) rose in Ireland from 200 per annum in 1980 to nearly 500 in 2003, gun suicides remained relatively static, averaging 31 self-infliced shooting deaths each year over 23 years, with an annual high of 50 and a low of 14. 39

Gun Crime: In the five years from 2001-2005, the Garda reported 1,690 robberies and aggravated burglaries committed with firearms, for an average of 338 per year. A peak year was 2004, with 428 armed robberies and burglaries. 40 In the years 2003-2007, fewer than one in five gun crimes resulted in a conviction. 41 In 2009, the Department of Justice reported a 31 per cent decrease in crime involving discharge of a firearm, while the number of firearm possession cases increased by 8 per cent. 42

And that’s it. The laws in Ireland are stringent. The result is fewer deaths. It’s not rocket science or the luck of the Irish. It is fact.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat, issued a statement today: “Nowhere but America do horrific large-scale mass shootings happen with this degree of regularity. This must stop.” Connecticut was the epicenter of the gun control debate after the Sandy Hook school massacre. Senator Murphy added: “It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.”

Let’s let today be the day every one of us do something. If you are an American citizen, or an expat with a home in America still, call your representatives in Congress and the Senate and do the following:

  1. Tell them your name and that you’re a constituent.
  2. Tell them you’re outraged at what’s happened today in Las Vegas and you want to see change.
  3. Tell them you will hold them personally accountable for the decisions and actions {or lack thereof} that they make going forward.

Thank you.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Click here to see how your Senator voted in June 2016 for background checks.

** More things you can do to help END GUN VIOLENCE.

*** Why gun silencers threaten public safety here.

**** 4 Gun Control Arguments We’re Sick of Hearing from Rolling Stones

***** While talking earlier today with my eldest daughter about this issue, she mentioned how using humor to disarm the effective filter of the gun control debate is helpful…especially to young people. Leave it to our amazing kids to find a new way around an adult conversation. Together, we sat down and listened to Australian Jim Jeffries’ routine on gun control, which went viral in 2015. If you’re not easily offended by the F-bomb…watch it here…maybe with the young-ones in your home.

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My girls are growing up fast. So fast {sigh}.

In no time at all they’ll be leaving secondary school {high school} and heading to university.

Where they will go to college is anyone’s guess. Being Irish and American, and practically having been born with a suitcase in their hand, they think globally. Ireland…America…the U.K….or even farther afield..are all options.

And, so, with mixed emotions, I am opening my heart, mind, and our hall door to allow them the freedom to chose what feels best for them. Yes, like generations of Irish mothers before me, I am steeling myself for the eventual immigration of my children.

“But why now?”, I hear you ask. The answer is sweet and simple. Not too long ago, while I was making dinner, my eldest daughter walked into our kitchen and said, “Mom, I’ve got to learn how to cook.”

Even today, as I write this blog post, I can see her, plain as day, standing in our kitchen, hands folded across her chest, earnestly running through the list of things she needs to learn to do before she graduates next year. “And, I need to learn how to clean, do laundry, shop, and drive too! Maybe I won’t be ready for college!!”, she said.

In that moment, I realised, she’s a planner…a worrier…and already thinking about leaving.

With regard to food, she was very specific: “I only want to make easy things…not microwaveable ones…I’ll only eat microwaved food sometimes!”. And then just to be sure I was listening, she repeated, “I just want easy food mom”.

So, in the coming year, starting with today, I will be posting recipes that even a sixth-year student {senior in high school} can make while living under our roof, studying for exams, applying to university, making us crazy, and waiting for their lives to begin.

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First up…Maple Vanilla Whipped Cream. It’s a Cooking 101 recipe. For those of us with more than basic cooking skills, it seems a bit ridiculous to write a blog post about whipping cream. And yet, there is science and creativity to making whipped cream {as anyone who has accidentally turned their cream into butter can attest to}.

And, yes, I know it’s a crime to add anything to Irish whipping cream. Unlike cream in my native country, Irish cream is gorgeous. It has real flavour and needs no embellishment whatsoever. But, since my girls may not end up in Ireland one day {and because, on occasion, we all like to try something new} I’m starting my College Bound Girls blog posts with this incredibly delicious recipe. If you’ve got university bound kids, please share your recipes with us.

And, finally, a side note: the Victoria Sponge pictured above was made by my youngest daughter last week. The recipe will be posted soon!

Maple Vanilla Freshly Whipped Cream

Makes about 2 pints/4 cups

Ingredients

1 pint/2 cups cream

1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Directions

1. Pour cream into a large mixing bowl.

2. Add maple syrup and vanilla and beat until soft, billowy, peaks form. You may use a balloon whisk, an electric hand mixer, or a stand mixer…whichever you prefer.

3. To test: lift the whisk out of the bowl and turn upside down. If the cream peak holds its shape and falls slightly to one side, you’re done.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* A ballon whisk is very easy to use…and I think the most satisfying. I used a balloon whisk for years, until my sister-in-law, Rosaleen, bought me an electric hand mixer for Christmas. Now I alternate, depending on how much time I have.

**If you use an electric mixer, beat the cream on medium speed, being careful not to over beat. You will recognise over beaten whipped cream instantly by its grainy  texture. To rescue, add a few extra tablespoons of cream from the carton and, using a hand whisk, gently mix it together.

***If you’re out to really have fun, continue beating your cream until it becomes butter!

****You can make whipped cream ahead of time and refrigerate it, covered, for up to four hours before serving.

***** In this video, one Irish dad gets very creative while helping his wife in the kitchen make cream. And, yes, that’s a drill he’s using!

******And, finally, here’s a video of life hacks one of my daughters downloaded to my phone. Just one more example of how they are preparing for adulthood. Be warned this video is addictive.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 11.01.24 AM.pngFebruary is not Irish heart month {September is*}, but with the visual cue of hearts literally everywhere we go, it seems the perfect month to reassess how best to care for the hearts of my sweet family.

Up first…exercising more. The Irish Heart Foundation recommends thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity fives times a week. In our Irish home even that miniscule amount of exercise can be hard to achieve, which is why I’ve started making physical activity a part of our family “talk-time”. Whether it’s my husband and me, one of us with one of our daughters, or the whole family together, we’re walking, biking, hiking and even dancing to the Wii while we are talking…laughing…and sometimes arguing and crying.  The upside of combining talking and exercise is obvious…we’re hardly aware that we’re being physical.

Next…stressing less. As my husband and I have moved into parenting teens, our lives have become more stress filled. What’s worse, as our kids have moved into their teen years…their lives have become more stressful too. Multiple studies have shown that extreme emotional distress is bad for the heart, no matter what your age. Stress triggers the “flight or flight” response, which in turn causes a surge of adrenaline in the body and makes your heart pump faster and harder. Not good…unless of course you’re running away from a man-eating tiger! To counteract stress we’re all doing some simple heart healthy activities, including sharing worries and woes with friends, journaling, listening to music, and allowing time to do absolutely nothing.

Finally…eating better. Over the past ten years, we’ve steadily reduced our intake of trans fats, saturated fats, sugar, salt and alcohol and increased our uptake of water, fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, and whole grains. Some of our perennial favourites include water with mint, 70% dark chocolate (Aine Irish hand made chocolate is the bomb), omega rich salmon, roasted broccoli, and porridge.

Porridge, also known as oatmeal, is not just for breakfast any more. Last September my friend Marguerite invited me over for an afternoon cuppa and a catch up at her beautiful home in Donnybrook. Instead of the usual side of biscuits {cookies}, Marguerite served Irish Porridge Bread. I’d never had porridge bread before and was delighted to give it a try. Truth be told, it was really good.

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Oats are high in beta-glucans**, a soluble fibre, which can lower cholesterol by soaking it up before it gets absorbed into the bloodstream. Oats are also a rich source of magnesium, which is important in preventing heart attacks and strokes by relaxing blood vessels and regulating blood pressure. What’s more, for someone like my brother-in-law who lives with coeliac disease, porridge is, for the most part, considered a safe, gluten free, food***.

From our Irish home to yours, we wish you a happy heart month. What are you doing in February to take care of your heart?

Irish Porridge Bread

Makes One Large Loaf

Ingredients:

500ml/16oz/2cups natural yogurt

1 beaten egg

1 tbsp. treacle or maple syrup

300g/11oz/3cups porridge oats, plus 2 tbsp. more for topping

2 tsp. bread soda/baking soda

1/2 tsp. Salt

Method:

1 Place yogurt, beaten egg and treacle/maple syrup in a mixing bowl and stir well.

2. Mix the oats, bread soda, and salt in a separate bowl, add to the yogurt mixture and stir well.

3. Place in a greased or parchment lined 2lb. loaf tin, sprinkle with extra oats and bake at 180°C/350°F for 30 minutes.

4. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C/300°F and cook for another 30 minutes.

5. Lift bread out of loaf tin and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Irish heart month coincides with the World Heart Federation’s World Heart Day, which is held in September.

** Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism

*** Anyone suffering with coeliac disease should proceed with caution when eating oats. Research suggests that for many coeliacs, oats are fine but for individuals who are particularly sensitive, they may be toxic.

**** For more research on the health benefits of eating porridge please see these articles (1, 2, and 3) from Harvard Medical School.

 

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When life gives you lemons…you make lemonade, right? But what about when life gives you elderberries?

Such was my thought a few weeks ago, as I stood staring up at the enormous elderberry shrub in our back garden. In the summertime I make a delicious elderflower cordial from the tiny fragrant flowers our elder gives us: from the cordial we enjoy homemade spritzers, sweet curd, popsicles…even pavlovas…for months on end. But as I eyed the tiny black berries that had grown from the unused summer blossoms, I wondered what to do.

Irish chefs and scratch cooks have been using elderberries for many years to make wine, jam, chutneys, tinctures, sauces, tarts, and fizzy drinks. One of Ireland’s most famous chefs, Richard Corrigan, uses them to make Elderberry Jelly. Imen McDonnell, blogger and cookbook author, throws a handful of elderberries into her autumn-inspired Irish Hedgerow Martini. And Michelan-star chef J.P. McMahon uses elderberries to make vinegar and sauces for his wild game dishes.

But what could I do?

As I stood there thinking about the possibilities, I remembered that my good friend Susan once suggested our family take a daily spoonful of elderberry syrup to boost our immune systems. Susan was giving Sambucol, a black elderberry extract, to her family and was finding that they were coming down with fewer colds and healing faster when they did catch something. So, a bottle of Sambucol was bought for our home and we took a spoonful every morning from autumn to spring as an ounce of prevention for a number of years.

I don’t know when we stopped taking Sambucol or why. Perhaps I got lazy…maybe just forgetful? Last winter, however, when I was knocked for six with a cough that lasted weeks, it sure would have been helpful {not to mention “healthful”} to have some on hand.

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As I stood there looking up at the clusters of tiny black berries hanging heavy on our elder shrub, that’s when it struck me. I could make my own elderberry syrup with very little effort and use it as a winter tonic for our Irish family.

Recipes for homemade elderberry syrup are readily found on Pinterest. Darina Allen has one in her Forgotten Skills of Cooking cookbook. Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle have a whole chapter dedicated to elderberries in their Wild Food book, too. Being my first time to make elderberry syrup, I followed Darina’s recipe and, within a few hours of picking the berries in my back garden, I had my very own seasonal elderberry syrup bottled and ready to be used.

From our Irish home to yours, I wish you good cooking and very good health!

Elderberry Syrup

Makes about 600ml

Ingredients

1 lb. elderberries

1 lb./450g sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice

1 organic lemon

Directions

1. Strip the fruit from the stems, put into a stainless steel saucepan, and cover with cold water.

2. Using a swivel-top peeler, remove thin strips of zest from the lemon and add {to the saucepan}.

3. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the elderberries are soft.

4. Strain through a jelly bag or a piece of muslin.

5. Measure the juice and put it back in the saucepan. Add 450g/1 lb. sugar for each 600ml of juice and the juice of the lemon {previously zested}.

6. Bring back to the boil for about 10 minutes, allow to cool before pouring into sterilised bottles. Seal with a screw cap and store in a cool, dry place.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Scientifically there is evidence to suggest that elderberries may reduce swelling in mucous membranes, help relieve nasal congestion, lower cholesterol, improve vision and improve heart health. Elderberries contain Vitamins A, B and C with large quantities of vitamin C, dietary fiber, carotenoids, flavonoids including quercetin and anthocyanins, organic pigments, tannins, amino acids, viburnic acids, minerals like potassium among others. All these make elderberry a powerful antioxidant. In addition to anti-oxidation properties, elderberries have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. They also have mild diuretic, laxative and diaphoretic properties. For more information, read studies from University of Maryland, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Department of Virology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel, and one from Yale University.

** The elder is native to Ireland. In Irish folklore, the Elder is thought of as an unlucky plant; often connected with the fairy folk and their mischievous tricks. It was once said that to make a child’s cradle from the wood of the elder was to invite the fairies to steal away a child. According to an old Irish saying there are three signs of a cursed place: the elder, the nettle and the lonesome calling corncrake.

***Read J.P. McMahon’s article on elderberry in the Irish Times here.

****Some fun recipes for elderberries from around the web are Elderberry Ice Cream over at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, Elderberry/Blackberry/Crab Apple Jam over at The Irish Catholic, Mulled Elderberry Gin over at Wild Irish Foragers, Elderberry Tea at Fresh Bites Daily blog, and the most beautiful Gluten-free Elderberry, Pear, Hazelnut Cake at Our Food Stories.

***** Some elderberries are poisonous and the leaves of all elderberries, especially, should never be eaten. For more information, Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture has guidelines, noting the fruits are used in “…pies, jellies and jams.” If you’re unsure if your elderberries are edible, please consult your local plant professionals/experts before consuming.

And two more articles on the benefits of elderberries may be found at the Irish Examiner and The Irish Times.

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